In this WSB newsfilm clip from May 14, 1961, a Greyhound bus smolders, and injured Freedom Riders wait in the hospital and speak of a mob attack earlier in the day in Anniston, Alabama.
The clip begins with the destroyed Greyhound bus, the company logo partially visible. The bus is extensively damaged by fire, and all of the windows are broken. Later in a hospital emergency room, African American Freedom Rider Mae Frances Moultrie (Howard), a twenty-four-year-old student at Morris College in South Carolina, sits in a wheelchair. Another woman, probably freelance writer and Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) activist Charlotte Devree, wears a print dress and appears to speak to a reporter. Her comments are not recorded. The camera again focuses on Moultrie sitting in the wheelchair; also in the picture is an African American young man who sits on a bench near Moultrie. The young man may be Jimmy McDonald, a folksinger from New York City and one of the Freedom Riders. Next, Freedom Rider Bert Bigelow, a former Navy captain and anti-nuclear activist, holds a microphone and speaks to off-screen reporters. He indicates that during the attack he saw four or five mob members with clubs or pieces of pipe. He also reports that there were no police on hand during the attack. Bigelow credits a Greyhound company agent and the bus driver with keeping mob members off the bus, calling it "suicide" to have left the bus.
The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) organized the 1961 Freedom Ride to test compliance in the South with a United States Supreme Court ruling against segregation in transportation crossing state lines. In 1960, the Supreme Court outlawed segregation in interstate transportation in Boynton v. Virginia. The ride began in Washington, D.C. on May 4, 1961 and was scheduled to reach New Orleans by May 17. The riders planned to join a celebration in New Orleans commemorating the 1954 Supreme Court ruling Brown v. Board of Education. The riders, divided into two groups, traveled either by Greyhound or by Trailways buses from Washington D.C. and through Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia before arriving in Alabama on Mother's Day, May 14. The first bus, a Greyhound that left Atlanta, Georgia at eleven that morning, was attacked by a white mob in the Anniston bus terminal. Mob members beat on the side of the bus, broke windows, and slashed the bus tires. Two members of the Alabama Highway Patrol, Corporals Ell Cowling and Harry Sims, kept mob members off the bus and protected the seven Freedom Riders until local police arrived at the scene and cleared a path for the bus to leave the station. A police escort followed the bus to the city limits, then turned around and left the bus. Carloads of mob members followed the bus and attacked it again when flat tires caused it to pull off the road. Patrolmen Cowling and Sims again protected the riders. At one point, two other highway patrolmen arrived on the scene; the new arrivals did not attempt to disperse the mob. After the mob's unsuccessful attempts to overturn the bus by rocking it and demands that riders come out of the bus, one mob member threw a bundle of flaming rags through a broken window on the bus. All of the passengers were able to get off the bus, and eventually the observing patrolmen dispersed the mob. Thirteen passengers were taken to the hospital in Anniston where several were treated for smoke inhalation before hospital employees, fearful of a threatening mob that had gathered outside, ordered the riders to leave the hospital as soon as possible. Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth of Birmingham, Alabama led a caravan of African Americans who rescued the riders and took them to Birmingham.
The two groups of Freedom Riders reunited in Birmingham. The Trailways bus and its riders had been told of the attack on the Greyhound bus in Anniston and were able to avoid the mob. However, when the Trailways bus arrived in Birmingham, a mob brutally beat the riders and several bystanders. The Birmingham police had agreed to give the mob fifteen minutes to attack the Riders before the police ended the attack. The next day, May 15, Attorney General Robert Kennedy tried to organize protection for the riders for the Birmingham to Montgomery portion of their journey. Unable to reach a compromise with Alabama officials, the riders were eventually flown to New Orleans that evening. A replacement group of Freedom Riders, organized by Nashville student civil rights workers including Diane Nash, traveled from Birmingham to Montgomery on May 20 where they were again met by a white mob and brutally beaten. On May 24, riders were heavily protected during the trip from Montgomery, Alabama, to Jackson, Mississippi. Once in Jackson, under a secretly negotiated deal between Department of Justice officials and Mississippi state leaders, the riders were all arrested under "breach of peace" charges as they got off the bus. Throughout the summer, subsequent groups of riders who also traveled to Jackson were arrested. In September 1961, the Interstate Commerce Commission, the governmental body responsible for interstate travel, issued a ruling forbidding segregation in facilities serving interstate passengers.
Title supplied by cataloger.
The Civil Rights Digital Library received support from a National Leadership Grant for Libraries awarded to the University of Georgia by the Institute of Museum and Library Services for digital conversion and description of the WSB-TV Newsfilm Collection.
Local identification number: Clip number: wsbn31824